Dear Secretary Pompeo, Prioritize human rights. Signed, Human Rights Advocates Everywhere.

Secretary Pompeo addressing State Department employees shortly after being sworn in. Secretary Pompeo has an opportunity to turn the page on the policies of his predecessor, and his own past.

By Ryan Mace, Grassroots Advocacy & Refugee Specialist, Amnesty International USA

Anyone who cares about human rights should not accept the vision President Trump has outlined for the United States’ international affairs programs. If accepted by Congress it would result in a devastating drawback of U.S. leadership in fighting for the fundamental human rights of all, regardless of where they live.

This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be before the House and Senate to defend the Administration’s proposed cuts to the international affairs budget. While he wasn’t at the Department of State (DOS) when the budget was written, he’ll likely be expected to defend the budget the Trump Administration has proposed. We hope he takes a different path.

This week, Amnesty International USA sent him an open letter urging him to rethink the President’s budget. We’ve also sent a memo to Congress to outline our priorities for the coming fiscal year. As he settles into his new role at DOS, Secretary Pompeo has the power — and opportunity — to reset the priorities for the bureaus he leads.

The United States is one of the richest, and most powerful countries in the world. The economy continues to strengthen. Is there any justifiable reason why, faced with such resources, the Administration has proposed to cut the United States’ humanitarian accounts by over 30 percent compared with the last year of the Obama Administration? We hope that the Members of Congress who have the opportunity will ask this question of the Secretary, and vigorously question him on the Administration’s proposed budget cuts to humanitarian assistance accounts, programs that defend the rights of women and girls, ask why the U.S. hasn’t transferred Guantanamo Bay detention center detainees who have been cleared for release, and other issues of fundamental human rights.

While these accounts provide substantial resources to programs around the world — programs that save lives — the fact is, they don’t cost U.S. taxpayers that much. Humanitarian and development priorities account for less than one percent of the annual U.S. budget.

As an example of how critical the international affairs budget can be, in a blog postearlier this month, we discussed four ways in which humanitarian aid from the U.S. is linked to the global refugee crisis. The post highlights how our humanitarian aid budget goes directly to assisting displaced populations around the world as well as supporting the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, a crucial program offering third country resettlement to the world’s vulnerable few.

If they were to be accepted by Congress, the cuts the President and his Administration have proposed would be devastating to the cause of protecting human rights, and puts at deep risk the work of building a stronger, more humane and safe global community for people from around the world. The programs that the international affairs budget funds are, simply put, life-saving and life-sustaining programs. Our world is facing a humanitarian crisis around the globe. The international community needs principled leadership, and U.S. humanitarian agencies need resources to help meet the basic needs of tens of millions of people who go hungry for lack of food, need urgent medical attention, want to attend school or find basic work, or need permanent relocation to safety. This is a time that the programs that undertake this critical work should be expanded, not cut to historic lows.

During his time as CIA director, Secretary Pompeo’s track record on human rights was deeply concerning, co-sponsoring legislation that sought a blanket ban on all refugee admissions and supporting the move to keep Guantanamo Bay open. In his new role, he is making decisions that affect the fundamental rights of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world. It is crucial that he prioritize human rights, starting with the budget priorities he advocates for. We hope he puts aside the policies of his predecessor, and his positions from the past, and forges a new path. One that puts the State Department “at the forefront of America’s efforts to ease humanitarian crises” around the world, as the Secretary himself said during his nomination process.

The Secretary has the opportunity this week to start his tenure at DOS on a note that prioritizes the human rights and dignity of all. We hope he listens to human rights advocates everywhere, and changes course. Millions of lives are at stake.

Your voice is needed to help push for robust funding of the international affairs budget and the protection of human rights for all. Contact your members of Congress today at 1–877–892–6897 and tell them that you support funding for humanitarian aid and want a budget the prioritizes human rights programs.

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